Weekly Torah Commentary – May 18, 2017 Behar-Bechukotai

Torah Reading: Leviticus 25 – 25

Haftorah Reading: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14

This week’s Haftorah reading opens with these uplifting words:

O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of distress.

With these words, Jeremiah overcomes his impatience and his struggle to believe what God has promised in light of everything he can see with the natural eye.  To Jeremiah, had come the promise of the restoration of His people to their land but the prophet was experiencing what many of us have experienced.  The outward circumstances at the time seemed diametrically opposed to what God had said and Jeremiah was tempted to waver in unbelief.  But for us, as well as for Jeremiah, the good news is that the Lord ‘remembers that we are but dust’ and shows Himself  to His people, as a strong hold to prisoners of hope, and a strong tower or place of defense to all his saints: ‘my refuge in the day of distress’. What a comforting and reassuring verse!

A few verses later (17:5-8), God speaks to the prophet again and graphically describes the difference between the man who trusts in God and the man who doesn’t.  Here are His words:

Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trust in people and makes flesh his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.  For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wasteland in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitants. (vs. 5-6)

A sobering assessment. The message here is not that we should never trust another human being. What a sad life that would be! Rather, the message is that the man who puts more trust in what other people can do for him, who looks to earthly minded and fallible human beings for all of his needs and all of his questions, is ‘cursed’; that is, he will never be satisfied for another human being can never be the final answer to our deepest need: only God is.  And the Bible tells us He is a jealous God.  You should be happy about that because it means that God loves you enough to want your undivided love and loyalty in return.

To rely on this world’s systems is utter folly. History has demonstrated the instability inherent in even the best that this world has to offer.  Why? Because this world is temporary.  As long ago as the days of Isaiah, God revealed that He would one day make a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22). At the final Redemption this will happen as sure as you are reading these words right now. For God cannot lie.  Since He said He will do it, He will.

trust

Therefore, what is man to do? The answer is in the next verses:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit. (vs. 7-8)

This is one of several places in the Bible where God uses the analogy of a tree to describe man.  A tree planted on the banks of a river or a stream flourishes because of the readily available water supply to support its life.  It has no fear of summer’s heat, its leaves stay green and even in a time of drought, it brings forth fruit.

In Isaiah 44:3 the LORD says: For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon your seed, and my blessing upon your offspring.

The man who puts his trust in the LORD, rather than people, will ‘thirst’ like a tree for the living water of which Jeremiah spoke earlier in his book:  For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. (Jer.2:13). God Himself is the living water necessary for our life.

The prophet repeats the same concept a few verses past the ones we are now studying:

O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake You shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.  Jer. 17:13

Twice, God declares that He Himself is like a fountain of living water, a Source that never runs dry.  Water is essential for life; natural water for the body, spiritual ‘water’ for our souls.  And what is spiritual ‘water’? The revealed Word of God, the Bible.

The blessed man is the one who realizes and internalizes this truth and knows that he knows that he knows that in God alone is everything he will ever need or desire.  In His Word are found the understandings, the insights, the directions and the illustrations that help us understand what it truly means to have a ‘successful’ life.

Life happens; and the ‘happenings’ are not always to our personal liking.

God doesn’t ‘happen’; God IS.  He is the only reliable Source for life, health, peace, love and everything else that enriches our time on this earth.

In Tune with Torah this week = whatever your need is today, God is the answer.  Whatever your question is, God has the answer. Whatever may be confusing you, God has the solution.

Blessed is the man who TRUSTS in the LORD.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Behar May 20, 2016

Leviticus 25:1-26:2

In the opening of this week’s reading, God commands Moses to instruct the people of Israel about the Shemitah, the rest for the land every seven years.

Trusting

As soon as the Jews settled in the Holy Land, they began to observe the seven year cycle that leads up to a Sabbatical year for the Land itself, known as the Shemitah which literally means ‘to release.’

The The Shemitah year waives all outstanding debts.  Does that sound great!  But there is more to it than that.  The observance of Shemitah has several dimensions.

1) It brings release to those in actual debt.
2) It gives the land a year to rest and renew itself.  Lev. 25: 3-6
During the Shemitah year, the farmers in the Land of Israel must refrain from cultivating their fields.  Anything that grows of itself is considered communal property and free for anyone to take.
3) It is a call to trust in God.
The Shemitah calls to the children of Israel to remember Who their Provider really is and to focus on their relationship with Him while they enjoy free time they would otherwise spend in farming.  They are to remember Who it was who gave them the Land of Milk and Honey!  Those who put their trust in God are richly rewarded.
I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years. And you will sow in the eighth year, while still eating from the old crops. Until the ninth year, until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old crop! (Leviticus 25:21–22)

 

Though many Jews living in Israel today are not farmers, the lessons of the Shemitah year are still relevant.  The Shemitah is like an extended, year long Shabbat where we focus on deepening our faith in God and trusting Him for everything we need.  We are urged during a Shemitah year to focus less on material pursuits and tend to our spiritual life.

So we conclude that the underlying theme of this week’s reading is trust.  King Solomon wrote: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

Isn’t that the challenge? ‘…lean not to your own understanding…’  We’re all guilty of doing that, aren’t we?

Particularly on Shabbat and during a Shemitah year, it behooves us to meditate on this verse and ask ourselves: How much do I depend on my own understanding and/or perception of events and circumstances?   You may remember that the prophet Isaiah wrote: God’s ways are not our ways…His thoughts are not our thoughts.  When we lean too heavily on our opinions, our perceptions and our attitudes, (thinking that surely we must be right!) we leave no room for God to share His ways and His thoughts with us about our life, our circumstances and our future.  Haven’t you been through something and wondered what in the world was happening, only to recognize – perhaps much later – that God was indeed at work in your life, even through that difficult time? Even when you couldn’t see His hand at all when you were living through it?  Hindsight really is a wonderful teacher.

In Tune with Torah this week = take some time this shabbat to reflect on all the blessings God has poured out into your life, how He has cared for you in good times and in bad, and let your trust in His unfailing love grow within you.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Nitzavim September 11, 2015

Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20

This week’s portion is always read in close proximity to Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana – the Feast of Trumpets – begins at sundown Sunday evening and continues through sundown on Tuesday.

During this season, teshuva (“return to God”) is the main focus and verses from this week’s reading reflect that.

And it shall come to pass, when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you shall return to your heart [while in exile] among all the nations, where the Lord your God has driven you. And you shall return unto the Lord your God, and shall obey his voice according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart, and with all your soul…. And you shall return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command you this day. And the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in every work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land, for good; for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, as he rejoiced over your fathers. If you shall listen to the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the Torah, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul. (Deut. 30:1-10)

While the season leading up to the fall Festivals of the Lord has a heavy emphasis on self-examination for purposes of repentance, let us not make the mistake of getting stuck in the past. The priority of repentance is to catapult us into a better tomorrow!
We repent for failures in order to walk more closely with God. This is the message of the Feast of Trumpets.

We are living in critical times. There are many voices in both the Jewish and Christian communities urging us to prepare for the coming of Messiah. Some who hear will scoff; others may dismiss it with a cynical ‘I’ve heard that before’ kind of attitude. The reality is that the appointed festivals detailed in Leviticus are and have always been important signposts on God’s calendar of redemptive history and should not be taken lightly.

Rosh Hashana is the annual reminder that life is a journey and every journey has a destination. One day each of us will stand before the heavenly Throne to give account of what we have done with the gifts and blessings we received during our life on earth.

Life is also a test. The pattern was set with the first two human beings, Adam and Eve. What was the test in the Garden of Eden? It wasn’t about eating a piece of fruit! Rather, in God’s command to refrain from eating the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil was the implicit question to Adam and Eve: Do you believe that I, Your Creator, have your best interests at heart? Or do you think you know better?

It was fundamentally a test of Faith.

It still is.

Rosh Hashana is a ‘mini’ judgment day, as it were. It is the time to judge ourselves at and ask: Do I really trust God? Am I persuaded that He is what the Scriptures tell me He is – my King, my Father, my Redeemer, my Provider, my Wisdom, my Rock and my Strength? Do I need to repent for leaning on my own limited understanding? The wise King Solomon warned against that when he wrote: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 And the Psalmist declared: It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. Psalm 118:8

If repentance locks you in the past, you’ve missed the point. Repentance is not an end in itself; it’s the door to a new beginning.

In Tune with Torah this week = Stop looking at your past life and instead focus your sights on where you are going. Keep pressing on to fulfilling the purpose for which the God of Israel put you on this earth.

May you and your family be abundantly blessed during this season of the Lord’s festivals.
May we all draw closer to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in this new year and walk more diligently in His ways.

Shana Tova v’ metuka! (May you have a good and sweet year.)

Shabbat Shalom